Stuart George

Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

Brown Caps vs. Foxes

In Cricket on May 6, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Foxes are normally only seen at cricket grounds when Leicestershire is playing.

But this afternoon at The Oval, where I managed to sneak in the last hour of play (and a win for Gloucestershire!), the final overs were enlivened by some big hits from Chris Tremlett – and a fox wandering audaciously around the outfield.

The small crowd cheered it on to chase the birds that it could never quite catch – like the Surrey fielders chasing cricket balls, in fact. When it was bored of of trying to eat birds, Fantastic Mr (or Mrs?) Fox decided to have a stroll around the Pavilion, even going up the stairs to the first floor balcony. It was still there when the match ended at 6pm.

I have never seen a fox at a cricket ground before, and certainly not in central London.

But I have seen (Pink) Panthers at Lord’s, Bears at Edgbaston, Eagles at Chelmsford and Sharks in Brighton! English cricket has truly become Animal Farm.

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Bye bye, not buy buy, Barbera

In Restaurants/wine and food on May 3, 2010 at 4:45 pm

The recent travel chaos caused by Eyjafjallajökull – no, I can’t pronounce it either – meant that my fellow blogger and Barbera 7 colleague Cory Cartwright was stranded in London for several days before being able to return home after almost two months on the road.

We arranged to meet and had dinner at my local curry restaurant Hot Stuff, in Wilcox Road SW8 where My Beautiful Laundrette was filmed in 1985. (Wilcox Road can be seen at 5:38 in this clip – it hasn’t changed!)

Hot Stuff is unlicensed so operates a BYO/no corkage policy. The food (and company) is great so I usually take along some bottles that otherwise might not be opened in a hurry.

Cory and I started with a 2004 Juve y Camps Brut Nature Gran Reserva Cava. Let’s face it, most Cava is filthy – and old Cava is even filthier than that. But this was really good, still fresh and lively, and about as rich and complex as Cava can ever be.

A couple of weeks ago I received some samples from a Barbera producer that I had been interviewing via e-mail for an article on Barbera d’Asti. His answers to my queries had been as forthright and unapologetic as his performance that snowy night in Nizza. Nonetheless, he generously offered to send me a few bottles to retaste.

I made sure not to look at my tasting notes from the Barbera Meeting 2010 and to try the wines with Cory and some good food, unprejudiced by previous experiences. We opened the elegant, albeit rather heavy, bottle and poured some Barbera d’Asti into our glasses. We sniffed… and nearly puked. The wine might as well have been labelled as vinegar, so appallingly high was the acetic acidity. We dared not try it again for fear of further upsetting our appetites.

We opened the Nizza bottling. Mercifully, it was not over-oaked and had a relatively pleasing texture but again it reeked of acetic acidity. These two bottles, or at least the first one, were completely unacceptable as wines made to be purchased and drunk.

I am saddened that the owner of this estate – by all accounts a distinguished man – genuinely believes that he is making “wines of excellence”. Indeed, at the Nizza meeting he shouted back at somebody who had the temerity to question the use of oak with Barbera, ““Do you know anything, anything at all, about wine?”

To paraphrase Kipling, what should they know of Barbera who only Barbera know?

I’m so Bordeaux with the USA

In Tastings on May 3, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Recently I was a guest at a wine auction held in Costa Mesa, just south of Los Angeles in Orange County.

Having written a great deal on the fine wine market and fine wine auctions over the last six years, it is rather embarrassing to admit that I hardly ever go to live auctions in London. Then again, they are so painfully boring that I’d rather stay at home and wait for the results to be sent to me.

In the USA – or California, at least – wine auctions are an excuse to have fun. In Costa Mesa there was lots of good food and good company. People were enjoying themselves in a way that is unheard of in London. The auction was part of a raucous –which is to say typically American! – evening, with the relaxed atmosphere encouraging strong bidding. There is nothing comparable in the UK, indeed anywhere in Europe, where wine auctions are very drab, staid affairs.

In addition to the bottles generously served by the auction house, people brought their own wines along to share with their buddies. And what wines these were…

These are a few of the blue-chip bottles that I drank on Friday and Saturday night. The notes are pithy because of the party atmosphere that prevailed – and I was severely jet-lagged.

Château Mouton Rothschild 1982

Fabulous nose, perfumed and aromatic. Very rich and full but elegant, though with a beefy finish. Still some tannins apparent. Age to 2030+? Very good and not as over the hill as some other 1982s that I’ve had. Less of the “hot” character of that vintage than expected, too, with much less cassis fruit than, say, Lynch-Bages when I last had it a couple of years ago. A great wine – for me the best of the evening.

Château Léoville-Las Cases 1985

Not as rich as the Mouton. Sweet, juicy and generous. Pencil/graphite aromas – very typical of Las-Cases. Elegant but not of the finest quality. Now to 2025?

Château L’Evangile 1994

The third time that I have had this wine over the last couple of years or so, when it has usually been drunk by itself. In tonight’s company it didn’t seem as forward as previous examples. Its quality was evident but coming after the generous Las Cases 1985 it felt very tight by comparison.

Château Léoville-Barton 1990

Full and fleshy but far from ready… 2013-25?

Château Lynch-Bages 1985

Green pepper nose but this is not to suggest unripeness! Fleshy, too. 2013-25?

Several other wines crossed my path, including a few white Burgundies that I thought were poor – they often appeared oxidised, or on the verge of oxidation. A Guigal LaLa was poured – I can’t remember which one – but it was dreadful, as I would always expect of that over-hyped producer…

A lost classic: Powell and Pressburger’s Gone to Earth

In Cinema on May 3, 2010 at 3:10 pm

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of two of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s less heralded films, Gone to Earth and The Elusive Pimpernel.

Although very different in style and theme, the two films share some things in common. They were both released in 1950 under the auspices of Alexander Korda, with whom Powell and Pressburger had signed a five-picture deal in 1948, ceding the independence of their production company The Archers.

Finance for both films came from American partners. Korda needed the money – his company London Films was flat broke due to currency restrictions. He had co-produced The Third Man with David Selznick, who had been dazzled by The Red Shoes and was enthralled by the prospect of working with its creators.

Based on a popular novel by Mary Webb to which Korda had the film rights, Gone to Earth was intended by Selznick as a vehicle for his wife Jennifer Jones. It is the story of Hazel Woodus, a child of nature in late nineteenth century rural Shropshire where she lives with her father and pet fox. The local squire Jack Reddin seduces her but she marries the Baptist minister Edward Marston. Torn between passion and duty, she falls to her death while protecting “Foxy” from a pack of hounds – “gone to earth,” as the huntsman cries when a fox has escaped to its lair.

Powell had roots in Shropshire so was attracted to the novel’s setting in the Welsh Marches. Pressburger enjoyed meeting Selznick in May 1949 at the Krönenhalle restaurant in Zurich. It all looked extremely promising.

Foxy lady

Once filming began in July Selznick, who fuelled himself with Benzedrine and amphetamine, bombarded the set with semi-hallucogenic memos that were up to ten-pages long. The ever-courteous Pressburger never read them before throwing them away but would always reply, “Thank you for your useful comments. We shall take the utmost account of them.”

Selznick was not the only challenge. During the location shoot at Much Wenlock there were objections from the British Field Sports’ Society, which prevented its members from lending packs of hounds because they felt the film was anti-blood sports. Eventually the Welsh farmer Daniel Stephens offered the use of his pack of hounds – he is seen in the film as “Master of Fox Hounds.”

After seeing the final cut in December 1949 Selznick claimed that it “varied in substance” from the novel and tried to block the film’s release. A judge ruled in April 1950 that because Selznick had approved the shooting script the film could be released in the UK. It was first screened to the public in November 1950.

The problems with Selznick continued even after the film had been released. His deal with Korda allowed him full control over the “western hemisphere” version of Gone to Earth: Powell and Pressburger were powerless to prevent alterations to the film. Selznick used Rouben Mamoulian to reshoot several scenes for the US version, including close-ups of Jones that were comically undermined by shots of her carrying what was obviously a stuffed fox rather than the live version of the first cut. It was released in America in July 1952 as The Wild Heart, using only 35 minutes of Powell’s footage.

Crashing symbols

In Gone to Earth Powell uses symbolism rather than the cinematic alchemy of The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death. Sometimes the symbolism is rather heavy-handed, such as the half-made coffin that frames Hazel’s first entrance to the cottage she shares with her father, or the flowers trampled underfoot by the squire when he seduces Hazel.

The Technicolor photography of Chris Challis is particularly fine; the extensive outdoor scenes were a literal breath of fresh air in an era that was still largely studio-bound. Brian Easdale’s brooding score contributes to the film’s otherworldly atmosphere.

Jennifer Jones gave a good if sometimes melodramatic performance with an accent that sometimes slips as much as her off-the-shoulder gowns. Perhaps her Hollywood lipstick and teeth are rather too perfect for a Shropshire country girl.

Gone to Earth was the third and final appearance by David Farrar in a Powell-Pressburger production; he remained the only actor ever to be personally contracted to The Archers. Esmond Knight and Hugh Griffith contributed entertainingly goggle-eyed performances as Hazel’s father Abel Woodus and Squire Reddin’s servant Andrew Vessons respectively. By contrast, Cyril Cusack plays Edward Marston understatedly.

Powell was dismissive of Gone to Earth in later years, calling it “a disaster… except for Jennifer’s performance, which I thought was absolutely wonderful.” It lacks the flamboyance of Powell’s most famed work but has endured better than he might have imagined. Steve Crook of The Powell & Pressburger Pages website suggests that the scene in which Jack Reddin stands in the rain outside the chapel house was the inspiration for a similar scene in Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear.

Probably the importance of Gone to Earth is less to do with its cinematic values and more to do with Powell and Pressburger’s first experience of the Hollywood machine. The Elusive Pimpernel caused problems with its co-producer Samuel Goldwyn and proved conclusively that The Archers were too free-spirited for Hollywood. Their loss was our gain.